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Thailand looks set to crack down on legal pot market with ban on ‘recreational’ use

BANGKOK (AP) — Two years after Thailand made pot legal, the country appears set to crack down on its freewheeling drug market with a ban on “recreational” use.

Legal cannabis has fueled Thailand’s tourism and farming trades and spawned thousands of neon green shops, but it’s facing public backlash over perceptions that under-regulation has made the drug available to kids and caused crime.

The Cabinet is expected to consider a law that would ban recreational cannabis use while allowing medical as soon as Tuesday. If approved, it would go to parliament, where support for more restrictions is widespread.

A draft version of the law that was circulated for public comment in January would make using cannabis “for entertainment or pleasure” a crime punishable by a 60,000 baht (about $1,700) fine. It would allow medical marijuana, but didn’t give details of how it would be controlled.

Thailand was the first country in Asia to legalize cannabis. Decriminalization was spearheaded by the Bhumjaithai Party, which made it a major part of its platform in the 2019 general election campaign. The party’s stronghold is in the poor Northeast, where it promised farmers cannabis would be a new cash crop.

Party leader Anutin Charnvirakul became health minister and an important member of the military-led coalition, pushing through a 2022 amendment to the Narcotics Law that dropped cannabis from the list of controlled drugs.

Anutin had promised that cannabis would be allowed only for medical use, but in practice the market was nearly unregulated.

The Health Ministry issued regulations that made cannabis a “controlled herb” that requires a license for planting or selling, as well as banning online sales, sales to pregnant women and people under